When we think tourism here on the northern Gulf Coast, we automatically default to sugar white sand and emerald green water. Why wouldn’t we? We have some of the best beaches in the world. The trouble is the tourists only tend to see the part of our counties that are within two miles of the beach. The effects of tourism spread far inland, though, as many of us involved in the tourism industry live away from the beach and consequently spend income within inland communities. Incidentally, that’s another benefit of tourism that’s not often recognized.
Last year we went on a short road trip to Georgia, to an area north of Atlanta. I wrote about the trip on my blog – http://ow.ly/KgHL3083iem. We took the back roads avoiding as many towns as we could. It was here that what’s termed agritourism was evident. What may not be obvious is that tourists travel for many reasons, and we’ll cover some of these in the future – cultural tourism, ecotourism, heritage, historical and medical tourism to name a few.
There is a current movement to preserve the rural way of life in Florida. Despite the impression that the Sunshine State is the theme park and beach capital of the world, agriculture is vital to Florida. Farm cash receipts from marketing Florida agricultural products in 2012 amounted to $8.22 billion.
Florida has a vibrant agritourism business (http://visitor.visitfloridafarms.com) as does Georgia (http://georgia-agritourism.org), which offer everything from pick-your-own to farm-stays. Many farms we passed in Georgia had signs offering “on farm accommodation.” There also are farm visitor centers, many boasting restaurants, souvenir stores and produce outlets – all activities that generate new income for the rural communities.
Do we promote agritourism here in Northwest Florida? Well, not really.See the rest of the article HERE.
This article was published in the Northwest Florida Daily News on Sunday January 14, 2017.
When I was 16, one of my greatest goals was to learn to drive. I bought an old car to do up when I was 15 and had my first driving lesson the day I became legally eligible. My friends did the same. During my late-teens and twenties (in the UK), my friends and I thought nothing of driving all over Europe for our vacations. Evidently it was the same here in the United States, and that had a particular effect on the Emerald Coast tourism business.
Well over 90 percent of Emerald Coast leisure visitors drive to our piece of paradise, with many loading up the car and driving 10 or 15 hours to visit. It’s been that way for 40 years.
Like everything else in tourism, things are changing. My children live in New Zealand – one is 28, the other 24 – and neither can drive or have any wish to learn. The same thing is happening in the U.S. The Federal Highway Administration reports that every demographic is losing interest in driving. Between 2011 and 2014, two particular age groups – 16-year-olds and those in the 20-24 range – stopped getting driver’s licenses. For 17-year-olds, the percentage of licensed individuals fell from 45 percent to 44.9 percent. Similar reductions happened across all age groups.
I’m not one for making resolutions, mostly because I change my mind so much! If you want to change something, better to just to get on with it than wait for some arbitrary date to start. That’s my excuse anyway. Similarly, looking backwards doesn’t help because we can’t change what has past – although as numerous people (apparently) are quoted as saying – if you don’t remember past mistakes, you’re doomed to repeat them!
So, in the interests of progress, let’s look forward.
I’ve read two articles over the end of the year break that I felt were right on point. I’ve attached links to these so you can read them yourself.
The first was by anti-aging & sports medicine pioneer, and futurist, Dr Robert Goldman (http://ow.ly/Akd9307C9Bt). Dr Goldman pointed out some of the changes that society will be subjected to over the next few years. What is most striking is the speed at which these changes will take place. I remember talking to a scientist with British Telcom back in the early ‘90s who said that they knew absolutely what developments would arrive within 5 years; they had a pretty good idea what would happen in the next 10 years but beyond that they were ‘wishing and hoping’! as Dr Goldman suggests we are now in the exponential age, where changes occur at an ever increasing rate. In many cases these changes happen faster than most businesses can adapt. If you read the article you’ll see that many developments will directly affect the Travel and Tourism Industry.
The second piece was by Christopher Elliott in the Washington Post (http://ow.ly/Hrvl307C9Ob). Chris is suggesting that 2017 is the year many people, especially Americans, won’t be traveling on vacation. He cites many reasons and offers suggestions of how as a tourist you can benefit (please go and read it!) but for those of us in the industry there are three main takeaways. That tourist will be looking for alternative accommodations, authenticity and satisfying their needs for instant gratification.
I’ve talked to many travel and tourism professionals over the past year and we’ve discussed the inevitable changes that are happening and I can’t think of anyone who has disagreed. After all, the signs are really clear – very ‘in your face’ as it were. However, many are not willing to accept the speed of changes.
Take ‘alternative accommodation’ – Airbnb in particular. Home sharing has expanded incredibly rapidly. Airbnb are now the largest accommodation provider in the world with over 2.5million homes (incidentally, they own no hotel rooms!) yet most of the vacation rental companies here in Northwest Florida’s Northern Gulf Coast seem to think think they are not a serious threat to their business model.
The past year the 1.5 million guest arrivals to Florida via Airbnb represent 114 percent year-over-year growth. This comes as Floridians increasingly embrace the home sharing platform as an opportunity to earn supplemental income and make ends meet. The Airbnb Florida host community grew 74 percent in 2016 to a total of 32,000 hosts.
Yes, the local industry says, but it’s in cities, not here.
This is the total supplemental income earned by Airbnb hosts in our local counties:
Bay County $4.9 million
Walton County $3.3 million
Okaloosa County $2.9 million
Escambia County $1.8 million
Santa Rosa County $683,000
That’s a total of nearly $13.6 million. True, it’s only 10% of the income from Miami-Dade alone, but its still remarkably significant.
People love the idea of either staying with a local host, or staying in the home of a host which they perceive differently than the relatively anonymous experience of a cookie cutter condo or a ‘standard’ hotel room.
This contributes to the ‘authenticity experience’ that comes from home sharing, boutique hotels and the like.
Chis Elliott also refers to ‘Instant Gratification’. I know I’m always talking about the attitudes of Millennials and younger Boomers but they do have have a seemingly out of proportion effect on our industry. Their behavior appears to affect the other sectors of our audience too. The ubiquity of smartphones and the ability to access information from wherever you are, makes the almost impulse decision to book a vacation all too easy.
You’ve bought things on Amazon. How many times have you been tempted by the ‘people who bought this also bought this’ suggestion?
Think what will happen when someone suggest “How about we go to The Gulf of Mexico next weekend?”. You look at your phone and up pops the local CVB websites – you see what events are happening, and guess what? You can book the Airbnb accommodation right there, and the concert tickets, and the Uber from the airport. Of course there was link to book flights too but you’ll probably want to do that with the airline because you get your miles there – and suddenly Delta Air Lines are offering 1 mile for every $1 you spend with Airbnb if booked through them – oh, and Uber credits too.
We have a change to the whole vacation booking experience, which is not taking 5 or 10 years to develop but is happening as we speak.
Put a note in your calendar to contact me at the end of 2017 and tell me if there have been no changes to your tourism business during the year. To be frank, I don’t think you’d be able to do that by June!
Whatever happens is going to be exciting. The evolution of the world’s biggest industry has always been fascinating and the near future won’t disappoint I’m sure.
Please follow the Owen Organization blog on www.owenorganization.com, sign up for the newsletter and follow us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/OwenOrganization. Lastly, check out the weekly ‘Talking Tourism’ column in the Northwest Florida Daily News every Sunday.